Scarily therefore my example in the story may very well be the protestors. Yes. The ones who lost their lives. They knew the king and his value system but refused to live under such a regime (Luk 19:14). So they protested his coronation. Protested when he proposed taking wealth from one and giving it to another who already had plenty. They resisted his regime even to the point of being killed in a gratuitous way by that king for his entertainment.
Whereas the third servant didn’t say anything but buried what he had, these people protested publicly at great personal cost.
So now I’ve got a second question. This parable is one of the rare ones where we’re given the actual reason why it was told. In this case Luke says that Jesus told it because they were near Jerusalem and the people thought the kingdom of God was going to come about imminently (Luk 19:11). So this was a parable about timing, where Jesus wants to either dampen enthusiasm or warn people that they needed to be in this for the long haul.
I’ve gone to and fro on this parable for many years, and I’ve written about it and preached it many times. My reflections on it have changed dramatically over the years, and still this timing thing grabs me and makes me think. The context in which I read it these days has changed. These are the days of the overhaul of the benefits system in the UK when research has emerged in recent days that the impact of welfare reform is most negatively pronounced on the most vulnerable and that it doesn’t incentivise work.
These are the days of confused and confusing government regimes in the UK and in the US when those on the bottom rungs of the social ladder appear to be of least concern to government. Days of wars and rumours of wars. Of the rise of the extreme right wing and renewed racism, anti-semitism and white supremacy.
Here in Northern Ireland something similar is happening in our churches. The bar of orthodoxy is being set by those with power and those who fail to measure up are being excluded. Even theological issues which we believed had been settled long time ago, like the role of women in our churches, are being questioned, and dissent is growing, because the issue of the inclusion of women is a wedge issue for other inclusion debates like that for the LGBT members of our congregations.
Some of us don’t want that type of rule to be king over us. But nor do we want to slink away quietly and make no fuss, in these days when ministries and reputations are being killed stone dead.
This parable sounds frighteningly contemporary. Protesting the powers is a scary thing. This parable serves as a warning, that if you buy into this radical Jesus paradigm for the organising of the world, or the church, then be prepared for the fact that not everyone will be up for it. In fact the dominant powers may be set against it and you may have to bear a great cost. And of course, we know in the history of the church that many have suffered and died for kingdom values and still the Kingdom of God hasn’t come in its fullness.
But that’s not the same as saying the Kingdom of God has not come at all. I say this because of the location of this parable in the Gospel of Luke. Right after the story of Zacchaeus and right before the story of the Triumphal Entry.